With just a few games left in the NHL regular season, the playoffs are close. The Nashville Predators would prefer to play the Blues in the 1st round.
On Saturday night at home, the regular season will end for the Nashville Predators. With games left against Washington and Columbus, the playoffs are in sight. The Predators have a three-point lead over Boston and Tampa Bay for first place in the league, making the team’s first ever President’s Trophy a real possibility. No matter how that shakes out though, there will be a tough first-round matchup awaiting the Predators in the playoffs.
Currently, there are three teams in the hunt for the two Western Conference Wild Card spots. Right now, Anaheim holds the first with 95 points, Colorado has number 2 with 93 points, and St. Louis is close behind with 92.
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If Nashville were to clinch the Western Conference title, which it seems they will, they will play the second Wild Card team in the first round. If I was the Nashville Predators, I would be cheering for their Central division foe, the St. Louis Blues, to grab that second Wild Card spot, over the Ducks or Avalanche.
Why the Blues?
This season, Nashville swept the Blues, with four separate wins. The first two came in St. Louis by scores of 2-0 and 2-1, and the final two in Nashville by scores of 4-3 in OT and 4-0.
Each game tells its own story, as the Predators have played two close games with the Blues, and also blown them out twice. The two shutouts speak for themselves as Pekka Rinne stopped 34 and 27 shots in those games. Nashville was able to keep St. Louis to a very low number of high percentage shots in both games, keeping scorers like Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko in check. When playing the Blues, that is a team’s highest priority. If Schenn and Tarasenko don’t see good chances, the Blues offense doesn’t work. All goals run through those two, as they have 65 and 64 points on the year, respectively.
In all four games this year, Schenn and Tarasenko have just three combined points. They’ve terrorized other teams all year, but for whatever reason, they haven’t been able to do it against Rinne and the Predators. Nashville’s defense just matches up well with those two, which bodes well for Nashville’s success, if they face St. Louis in the first round.
Similarly, Nashville is giving up the 2nd fewest goals per game this year, with just 2.5 per game. St. Louis’ scoring 6th worst in the league, with just 2.7 goals per game. Those stats match up almost perfectly, adding another positive outlook on a Nashville-St. Louis matchup.
With 902 penalty minutes this season, Nashville is the most penalized team in the NHL…oof.
However, that stat means nothing if teams cannot capitalize on their power plays. That’s a problem that the Blues have had all season. They have the second worst PP percentage in the league, scoring just 15.4% of the time. On the other hand, Nashville kills 82.2% of their penalties, a number that is 7th best in the NHL. As much as Nashville spends time shorthanded, that means nothing if they are able to kill those penalties.
Hot and Cold Streaks
One of the most important things about the playoffs is being able to get hot when you need to. We saw it last year with the Predators, as they tore their way through the Western Conference playoffs, barely losing any games along the way.
This season, St. Louis has been known to go extremely cold for a few games in a row. They’ve lost 3 or more games in a row, 5 separate times this season. An Achilles heel like that is fatal in the playoffs. On the other side, Nashville has had such winning streaks, 8 different times this season.
A few bad games in a row in the playoffs can negate an entire season of good streaks and hard work. Thankfully, those streaks favor the Predators.
No matter who Nashville gets first though, they cannot look past them. Last season that proved fatal for Chicago, as they were in the exact same situation that Nashville is in now, except they were swept 4-0 by your Nashville Predators.
When it comes down to it, Nashville would just rather play the Blues. They’ve handled them this season, and they know them well. Also, it’s the shortest travel distance of any potential opponents, which hugely benefits the players. All measurable categories show St. Louis as the weakest of the three Wild Card contenders.
Now, Nashville just has to actually beat whoever they get in the first round…
Go Preds Go!